Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Marine Electronic Warfare

ComNavOps has long discussed the need for the military to start training in an electromagnetically challenged environment since that is clearly what we’ll fight in.  Stubbornly, the military has refused to conduct serious electromagnetically disrupted training.  On the one hand, we have absolute faith in our ability to attack enemy communications, radars, sensors, data links, and networks while, on the other hand, crediting our enemies with no ability to do the same to us.  Evidence is mounting, however, that Russian and Chinese forces will routinely employ widespread and powerful electronic countermeasures (ECM).  Russian forces in Ukraine are reported to have electronic warfare (EW) units attached even to small units and have operated them quite effectively.

On a related note, the Marines are looking to expand the offensive use of EW by distributing jamming pods on all aircraft and even ground vehicles or, ultimately, individual soldiers (1).  The EW pod of choice is the Intrepid Tiger II which first appeared in 2012 and, in its airborne guise, is the size and shape of typical Hellfire missiles or simulator pods used in training.  Foxtrot Alpha website has a nice description of the pod and its origins (2).

Intrepid Tiger II Pod - Good Start But Only Half The Story

The desire by the Marines to include EW pods on many units and at many levels is commendable and, hopefully, signals a budding recognition that we may someday fight a peer opponent rather than the endless series of low end threats we’ve dealt with in recent decades – threats that have allowed us to become stagnant and complacent due to the lack of challenge.  Distributing EW widely and at low organizational levels will put a much needed capability at the front lines. 

We seem to be slowly recognizing that we need to expand our offensive EW capability.  That’s good but what about the flip side?  What about defensive EW capabilities?  What about our ability to operate in an electromagnetically challenged environment?  Can our troops communicate in the face of enemy jamming?  Can we navigate without GPS?  Will our data links function in the face of ECM?  Will our weapon guidance signals get through?

Hand in hand with distributing EW pods to all and sundry aircraft, vehicles, and troops, our forces need to learn how to operate when those EW capabilities are turned on them.  I have yet to see much indication that the Marines are making any effort to train in a realistic electromagnetically challenged arena.  The Army, at least, has begun to take steps in that direction and the Marines need to follow suit.

All of the above applies equally to the Navy. The Navy has only recently begun to upgrade its venerable (obsolete) SLQ-32 EW equipment and has made no effort to train in an electromagnetically challenged environment.  The complacent attitude is that our EW will baffle the enemy and theirs will have no effect on us.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

We need to start training like we’ll fight which will be in an electromagnetically degraded condition.  A good starting point would be to turn our own EW/ECM capabilities on ourselves in exercises and to do so in an uninhibited manner.  Let the EW/ECM people inject themselves into exercises with no constraints and no limitations.  If they can totally disrupt a training exercise, so be it.  Better to find out now than in actual combat.  The argument in the past has been that if we disrupted our own training, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the goals of the training exercise.  That is just complete and utter nonsense.  If we can’t accomplish our training goals in the face of EW/ECM then we aren’t prepared, equipped, and trained properly and the reduced training is worse than useless because it leads us to believe that we’re ready.  Every athletic coach will tell you that the only thing worse than not practicing is to practice incorrectly and develop bad habits.  That’s what we’re doing when we hold back in training.  Russia and China aren’t going to hold back on EW/ECM so that we can accomplish our goals.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Aim For Jammers On ‘Every Airplane’”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., April 01, 2016,

(2)Foxtrot Alpha website, “How The Marines Cheaply And Quickly Built Precision Comm-Jamming Tech”, Tyler Rogoway, 18-May-2014,


  1. Perhaps they are starting to listen a bit?

  2. Just a side note: DDG 51 PEO Capt.Mark Vandroff at the recent SAS 2016 stated that the EW Surface Warfare Electronic Improvement Program Block 2 will be a big improvement and on ship 117 onwards, Block 3 with active capabilities still in development and as yet no confirmation which ship to be the first to be fitted.

  3. I fear that to an extent, the USN does not want to find out, for fear of the implications.

  4. Not really a navy issue, but with military equipment in general. Our Reliance on networking our various weapons systems with additional capabilities is our greatest weakness. Reason I say this, is I have seen repeatedly "wonder weapons/ gadgets" that constantly fail in uncontested training or in regular modes of operations. I also know most of our equipement, at least for the army side of things, will not work in conjunction with our OWN electronic warfare systems. As ComNav has pointed out many times, we are ill equipped to have EW used against us currently. Something to which our potential enemies I fear to not suffer from. They most likely are behind in doctrine and technology, which I can see as a strength. Their reliance on it is less. They are use to the "old" ways. So designing offensive EW capabilities, while useful, is pointless when we can't exploit it because we get hurt worse then we could do to them. We need to focus on overcoming our weaknesses first, then spend money that is short supply on other things. Our current offensive is good enough already.

  5. I know this is off topic but this might be the subject of a later post.

    Even Star Trek had "man" in their job titles. Remember Yeoman Janice Rand?

    1. I did a humor piece on this (see, What's In A Name?). There's nothing serious or worthwhile about this that's worth a post. Just another example of the military focusing on anything but their main function.